How A Resilient Mind Helped Me During Chemotherapy – 5 Tips to Create a Resilient Mind
Tricia Downing was riding her bicycle on a warm September afternoon, preparing for her upcoming race, when out of nowhere; she collided with an oncoming car. That accident left her paralyzed from the waist down and she could no longer compete. Her life as a competitive bicycle racer was over.However, that didn’t stop her from pursuing her passion and purpose. TriciaDowning found a way to compete again as a wheelchair racer!
George Everly, Director of Resiliency Sciences Institute inMaryland, was once asked:
“What’s the difference between those who sink versus those who swim?”
He replied, “Lack of adequate preparation and tenacity, and a negative attitude.”
I’m fascinated with human behaviour and the strategy behind how some can excel while others quit. This search brought me to neurolinguistic programming (NLP). This is the study of how language, both verbal and non-verbal, affects our physiology and behaviour. In simple terms, it is the study of human behaviour and human excellence, and it was founded by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.
Both men studied people who were phenomenal at what they did so they could understand the behaviour patterns of success and how these people communicate to themselves in ways that create behavioural choices.
Bandler and Grinder found that in order to pursue human excellence, a person must acknowledge these fundamental principles, belief systems, the way our thoughts are represented, and physiology.
In my book, The Resilience Reflex, I’ve written a whole chapter on beliefs, but in this book, I’m going to focus on how you can dominate your thoughts and control your physiology.
There’s an old quote,
In NLP, I was taught the way we represent our world is through our senses: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory.However, the first three senses are used primarily to represent our experiences and it is the manipulation of these senses that will help you shift your negative state into a positive state.
For example, think of a pleasant experience that you’ve had recently. Now notice how you represent the images, the sounds and the feelings from this experience.
Is the image large or small, clear or fuzzy, bright or dim, colour or colourless, moving or stationary?
Are the sounds of the experience loud or quiet, slow or fast, high-pitched or low-pitched, near or far?
Is the kinesthetic experience happy or sad, hard or soft, flexible or stiff, intense or soft?
Now do the same for an unpleasant situation. Notice what you see and how you see it; what you hear and how you hear it; what you feel and where you’re feeling it.
In NLP, I learned that once you become aware of how you represent a situation in your mind, you can take control by programming your mind to represent it in a way that makes you feel empowered rather than limited.
“Can you start your chemotherapy treatment in two days?” the nurse asked me after I saw my oncologist.
“Wow, that’s quick! Yeah, sure, I guess,” I replied nervously as she escorted me to the laboratory for blood work.
During the 2-day wait, I started to get anxious as I had no idea what to expect, and I became aware of how I was representing the experience I was going to have. I caught myself visualizing feeling sick and nauseous after chemotherapy, being in bed the whole time and very weak.
- This image was large and right in front of me.
- It was clear.
- The image had color.
- It was like a movie and yet like a bright picture.
- I could see myself in it, as if I was watching a movie of me (this is called disassociation).
- The movie I was playing in my head seemed silent but I could hear myself throwing up.
- I felt a heaviness in my chest.
- I could sense the IV needle of chemotherapy piercing through my skin.
- I could see myself feeling tired and laying down.
As soon as I became aware of what I was representing in my head, it was no wonder I was feeling scared, couldn’t sleep at night and kept praying all the time! In fact, I was in a negative state and felt I had no control of the situation. I used my knowledge in NLP to manipulate my senses so I could feel more in control, as follows:
- I freeze frame these distressful images and drain the color. They are now black and white.
- I make the images blurry.
- I then shrink the images and send them underground.
- I then create new images, like a movie, where I see myself behaving my usual way with hardly any symptoms. I make these images large and bright and full of color.
- I step into this new movie and act as if it were happening (this is called association).
- I decrease the volume of the “sickness” sounds until I can’t hear them, and I replace them with a song I learned from Suzi Smith during my NLP health training certification. It goes: “Every little cell in my body is well, every little cell in my body is well. I can tell, every little cell, in my body is healthy and well.”
- As I started to control my visual and auditory senses, the heaviness in my chest disappeared.
- I felt energised, positive and resilient.
Playing with your senses is similar to playing with the remote control of your television:
Visual: You can flip the channels to watch what you feel like: comedy, news, sports, horror or romance. Similarly, you can flip the images in your mind to visualize what you want.
Auditory: You can play with the volume button to increase, decrease or mute the sound. Similarly, you can change your self-talk to feel more empowered.
Kinesthetic: Depending on what channel you choose, you’ll have feelings based on what you’re seeing. Have you held your partner’s hand when watching a horror movie? Have you laughed your head off when watching a comedy? Similarly, when you work on your visualization and self-talk, your feelings will start to change.
I’ve attached a chart that will help you release stressful experiences and embrace resourceful experiences.
On the day of my chemotherapy treatment, I shared through aFacebook Live video, how I was handling my anxiety with moving my focus away from thinking about it to doing things that bring me joy. You can watch it here:
I never had any symptoms during the 2.5-hour chemotherapy treatment. In fact, the very next day, I attended a friend’s baby shower and helped out with the decorations.
Did I suffer from other symptoms? Yes, but I started looking for solutions when they occurred, which I’ll talk about in the next chapter. The only reason I started to look for solutions instead of incessant complaining is because I remembered Mr. Everly’s statement from the Resiliency Sciences Institute.
When resilient individuals are faced with challenges, they have two streams of thought running through their minds. One is about finding solutions and the other is about all the things they appreciate in life. It’s as though there’s a subconscious REFRAME button they push whenever their thoughts and emotions turn to worry and fear, because after a short time, they’ve perked up and are more positive and appreciative about what they already have. They were not born with this ability, but they were taught by other influencers; they have trained themselves to look at what they already have rather than stewing in worry.
Resilient individuals get worried and overwhelmed just like everyone else, but it’s this one subconscious step of appreciation they implement that completely makes them flip the coin on the challenges they face and makes them feel more hopeful.
A positive mindset brings a positive attitude, and that automatically improves our physiology. You choose the quality of life you want, don’t you? Similarly, I cannot let cancer define my quality of life, but I can choose to react in a way that improves my quality of life while going through treatments. It’s always about how you react to a situation that determines the next chapter in your life.
I agree it’s difficult to be positive all the time. I certainly wasn’t positive all the time. The idea is to catch yourself having negative thoughts and to turn them into more helpful thoughts.
For every negative thought I encountered, I asked, “What’s a more helpful thought?”
Here are some examples:
“It’s time for my next chemotherapy treatment. Ugh, I’m not looking forward to my symptoms!”
“That’s okay; it may last 3-4 days and the next couple of weeks will be manageable, just like last time.”
“I don’t have benefits. How am I going to afford all this, not to mention taking sick days?”
“I’m sure there are others in the same boat as me. Maybe the cancer clinic will have more resources.”
“I’m going to be hideously disfigured after my breast surgery!”
“Other women have suffered the same consequences and now there are alternatives, such as special bras and reconstructive surgery.”
5 Ways to Create a Resilient Mindset
To start creating a resilient mind, arm yourself with the following resources:
1. Practice manipulating your images, self-talk and feelings by using your senses. It takes time to make this into a habit, but it’s easy to master and creates real-time resilience.
2. Focus on things that bring you joy. For example, playing a musical instrument, making art, baking, writing, reading, playing board games or jigsaw puzzles, and even watching funny videos.
3. Watch inspirational videos on YouTube.
4. Focus on what you want rather than on what you don’t want. Whenever you catch yourself thinking negative and focusing on what you don’t want, ask the following two questions:
- What do I want instead?
- What’s a more helpful thought?
5. Tap into your closest support system when you need to talk or ask for help with day-to-day activities. Allow your support system to call you out when you’re holding on to a victim mindset.